Bill Bailey is one of the most buzzed-about British comics in the world at a time when Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand and many others have nudged British comedy once again into vogue, and he backs it up with a blend of music and observational performance that’s as virtuosic as it is disarming and a little bizarre.

Bill Bailey’s had much of the world licked for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before he tried his hand with U.S. audiences again.


But when you’re selling out arenas in the U.K. and Australia, and have more television work than you can commit to in your home country, well, priorities are priorities.


“I came about 10 years ago to New York and had a great time. My plan was to come back every year and do a tour,” said Bailey in a recent phone interview. “But events took over for me. I got a lot of TV work, got into more tours and stuff, and I suddenly thought, it’s been 10 years. So I’ve backed off a bit from the TV and now one of my projects is to tour America. This is a first-toe-in-the-water type thing: play a few cities, get an audience to come out.”


It’s a short tour that’ll take him to New York, Toronto, Chicago and Boston, and it’s hard to imagine Bailey will have much trouble with crowds. He’s one of the most buzzed-about British comics in the world at a time when Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand and many others have nudged British comedy once again into vogue, and he backs it up with a blend of music and observational performance that’s as virtuosic as it is disarming and a little bizarre. (Check out his “appeal” to Metallica at this year’s Sonisphere festival in Britain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98xNx87hRbU).


The idea that British humor is lost on American audiences is, to Bailey, a myth.


“Funny is pretty universal. If it’s not funny, you’re not doing it right,” Bailey said. “I saw American comics come to London, and they’d do great, and I thought this can’t just be a one-way thing. So, yeah, I always thought it was a bit of a myth. And five years of YouTube has made a huge difference. People anywhere in the world can sit on the Internet and see your stuff. So audiences are a little bit more comedy-savvy, they’ve been exposed to a lot more comedy and seen a lot more.”


Bailey, 47, graduated the club and theater circuit in the U.K. about 10 years ago, and began to play arenas and add to the film and TV resume he’d been building since at least the mid-90s. American tours, he said, will be his “new thing.”


“America’s got a huge and very long and very established legacy of comedy and standup in particular,” he said. “It’s more developed there than it has been anywhere else in the world. So comedy has been established for a long time and it’s audiences who probably aren’t that familiar with me.”


Audiences can expect observational comedy and plenty of music, with Bailey playing as many “interesting instruments,” he says, as he can get his hands on in the span of a show. Politics and topical humor aren’t his focus, Bailey says, but that doesn’t mean he ignores those things.


“I try to change it up every night,” he said. “I usually have a lot more material than I need for the show, so I kind of rotate it, and I will be trying out new stuff while I’m there. I’ve got new instruments I want to play. It’s kind of a team, you know, the good bits? You have your good players and your guys on the bench. So maybe I bring some subs in off the bench, rotate them in.”


The Patriot Ledger